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Cover story

The Storm's Quiet Eye

How cool, calm and emotionally brilliant Brentwood psychotherapist-entrepreneur George Anderson built an empire from L.A.'s limitless supply of hotheads

August 28, 2005|Andy Meisler | Andy Meisler's last story for the magazine was about California's food capitals.

Nobody's counting, but courts all over the country are referring thousands of defendants convicted of low-grade offenses (such as simple assault or resisting arrest) to classes of varying length in either anger management or domestic violence prevention as a condition of their probation. (John Elder explains: "A man comes home and finds his wife in bed with another guy. He hits the guy, that's anger management. He hits his wife, that's domestic violence.") Anger management also is taught in prisons to inmates hoping to qualify for early parole.

Around Los Angeles, at least, most therapists who want to get into the anger management game get Anderson & Anderson training and certification. It costs $250 per day for a five-day live course, or $599 for the CD home-study option. Certified practitioners must purchase all their workbooks and other teaching materials from Anderson & Anderson. They also must attend 16 hours of maintenance training each year, and be recertified by Anderson & Anderson every two years.

What those therapists ultimately charge their clients is their own business.

Although Anderson has a busy branch office in Lawndale, his mainstay is training A&A-certified practitioners--in venues as close as Santa Monica and as far away as Arkansas, Florida, Guam, Great Britain and the Philippines. He estimates that he and Anderson & Anderson-certified trainers have turned out more than 8,000 anger management practitioners thus far. Many of these are therapists who offer anger management as part of their private practices. Others are embedded in prime anger hot spots: They're human resource managers, school counselors and psychologists, clergy and parole officers. Lately, Anderson has reduced his role as chief trainer and devoted his time to providing one-on-one anger management training to business owners, lawyers and doctors, government officials and college faculty members who often take the training at the request of superiors presenting it under the stealth rubric of "executive coaching." He charges $250 per hour.

Last December, Anderson & Anderson signed a contract with--wait for it--the United States Postal Service, under which the USPS will use the Anderson & Anderson anger management curriculum and workbooks and pay Anderson & Anderson $31.50 for each postal employee thus trained. It's worth noting that the postal service has more than 700,000 career employees.

The specific details of how George Anderson became the center of the anger management world in Los Angeles suggest that being an emotional genius isn't even his most remarkable talent.

Anderson was born and raised in Jackson, Miss., the son of a contractor who specialized in building churches. In 1957, during his freshman year at Jackson State University, he was nearly expelled; he had participated "in a leadership role" in a classroom boycott protesting the actions of a governor he felt was racially discriminating against his college. Anderson moved to Los Angeles, graduated from Cal State Los Angeles, and spent the next 10 years at the L.A. County Probation Department working with adolescent offenders. He noticed, he says, that the kids responded better when their anger was met with softness and understanding rather than with punishment. Then he decided to become a psychotherapist.

He enrolled at the UCLA School of Social Work, won a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and transferred to Smith College in Massachusetts, where he completed his master's degree. He then enrolled at Harvard's School of Medicine, where he became qualified to practice child and adolescent psychotherapy.

He got a teaching post back at UCLA. That was where he met his future wife, a fellow psychology teacher. It was also, he says, a glorious era when faculty members could use their offices to treat private patients between classes. In the early 1980s, the school caught on and began charging faculty members a percentage of their fees. "When I heard that," Anderson says, "I walked around the corner and rented an office. Then I called Nancy and said, 'Guess what? I'm quitting UCLA.' "

This, Anderson says, is when things got interesting. His private practice was percolating along when a group of Xerox Corp. executives in California contracted with him to handle mental health needs for themselves and their children. Then came United Airlines, Amtrak and other corporations; before long Anderson and his wife, who also left UCLA, were running a sort of mental health-only proto-HMO, subcontracting with psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and mental hospitals all over the country. It evolved into a fairly large operation, and A&A charged clients' health insurance companies $210 per hour for psychiatrist time, $145 for psychologist time and $135 for social worker time. Their yearly income exceeded a million dollars. They bought a house in Brentwood.

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